Exactly one year ago, singer-songwriter Novastar suddenly had to completely change directions for his new album. After working on it for two years, there was a major blow to the process as his producer fell ill. One night, he decided he would not let this get to him, and redrew the plan. This resulted in his captivating new record, In the Cold Light of Monday.
Antwerp-based Novastar, whose real name is Joost Zweegers lives and breathes his music, and he has done so from a young age. “It is something I have carried with me my entire life, and it originates from me sitting in my basement every night making music. I’ve been doing this since I was 16,” he says. “Recording an album is a very lengthy process, especially with you putting all your heart and soul into into it. I am so passionately possessed by making music.”
A sudden shift
After the successful collaboration for his previous record, Inside Outside, with renowned British producer John Leckie, Novastar was keen to repeat the process for the new record. “Unfortunately, Leckie got ill and had to stop the production,” he says. “I always search for a soundboard and I found that in John Leckie and worked with him for years, also in my Antwerp home where I live. So we had everything prepared to record the album and then he fell ill, and everything fell apart. That was a huge shock.”
However, Novastar did not allow himself to just give up.“I am proud of the fact that one night, I told myself, ‘right he is ill, but this time I am not going to end up in a slump’. Artistic people often live from highs to lows,” he says. “I decided to make something positive out of it, just push on and open another door. That is how I ended up in Brighton pretty quickly.”
Making a fresh start
When he fell ill, Leckie initially offered to help Novastar finish his album by giving him a list of recommended producers who would be up to the task. However, Novastar has other plans. “I didn’t want that, nobody can replace Leckie.” So instead, he went to his keyboard player Mikey Rowe, to get some advice. To his surprise, he got an invitation in return. “He said: ‘Come to Brighton and let’s give it a go ourselves. I bet we can pull it off,’” Novastar recounts.
With a two-year pre-production process with Leckie under his belt, Novastar felt like he had to shake things up to really break with his previous plan, and prevent him from looking back. He decided to make some radical changes. “I took an 180-degree turn to head into that new direction. I used to work at night, now we did a nine to five. Everything was turned around, I got a new band, different people in my entourage, to kind of arrive at a new Joost.”
After always recording his albums at night, doing normal office hours took some getting used to. The first time he was asked to sing a song at 11 in the morning, he initially refused, but eventually caved in. This lead to a “very fresh sound” as he describes it. Thanks to this, and the eager audience reception, he sees parallels with his debut album. “I feel like people are very enthusiastic in a way that I recognise from the first records. I don’t know why I felt that, but this is a kind of synchronisation.”
In the cold light of Monday
Needless to say, Novastar experienced a rather intense time when he first got to Brighton a year ago, especially the first week of recording. He says: “There are so many things you have to deal with, and everything is about you. So at the end of the week, I asked ‘do you think we did a good job’?” Expecting to sit down with Rowe and go over the past few days, Novastar got an answer he did not expect. “But Mikey said ‘no, we’ll finish up at 5 o’clock and we will see it in the cold light of Monday.’” Immediately, Novastar was caught by the phrase, and wrote it down on a whiteboard in the studio. “It was up there all those months. In the end I couldn’t think of a better title, and I had been staring at it for ages. So I thought, ‘that is going to be it’.”
To him, the title refers to the way he experienced those months, staying in Brighton until February this year. In the mornings, he would take an hour-long walk before entering the studio. “Every day, I walked over Brighton Beach with its abstract blue sky, the autumn sunshine, its curiously coloured sea. That entire colour palate is on the record, including Brighton’s somewhat weathered Victorian houses.”
A long wait
It turned out that Novastar actually had quite a lot in common with Rowe, including the fact they are the youngest of three brothers and are both self-taught musicians. When Rowe surprised him with an intro he wrote for Long Time, Novastar new that he was on the right path. This intro, in fact, became the first chords on the record. “I was so touched because he really knew where I wanted to go with my music,” he said. “You could see it in our eyes, it is a kind of musical infatuation. Then you just have to go for it; don’t ask too many questions or analyse too much, just throw yourself into the deep end. And that is what I did.”
The song The Laines is in a way an ode to his time in Brighton. The song was originally about laying yourself into the arms of your loved one to unwind, with the title Love that Burns. However, when wandering down the Laines area of Brighton, something clicked. “Everything was just closing for the day, it was getting dark, and I was so overwhelmed by how I was working,” he said. “I thought to myself; ‘Mum, look at me! Look how much I am in my element here with my music’!”
Because of his relationship to his music, he writes a lot of material, but only records about ten per cent of it. At the start, he always finds it hard to pick which songs to develop, but has found a process that works. “It is something that grows,” he explains. “It often transpires that the songs that give you the biggest love/hate relationship are the survivors.”
While it took him four years to record this album, Novastar never really sat still, as he diligently works on his music every night. “I never really take a break,” he says. “First and foremost, I make the music for myself, as a kind of addiction.” Even after a concert, no matter how big or small, he admits he has to “kick off” by playing some music for himself after the show at home. “It’s my beating heart in a sense.”
A British connection
Since his previous album, Novastar has picked England as his preferred place to record his album. “It’s always been my dream to work in England and make music with British musicians of a certain level, where I look up to and hope to get influenced by. I managed to get this done since about six years ago.”
Aside from his music, Novastar has one more great passion, which often takes him all around the British Isles: neolithic history. “I’ve probably seen more archeological sites in England than the average Brit. It calms me and it is a little bit comparable to working at night, it is the same elusive feeling, a kind of fantasy world.”
A self-proclaimed ‘einzelgänger’, Novastar uses the music and songwriting to process his everyday life. “I am a very emotional and sensitive guy, and I need this to feel good.” He continues: “I am self-taught so I always learn lots of new things, and I play all kinds of things but very much from my emotions. I’m not blocked by the knowledge of music, everything is like an adventure.”
This also affects his approach to live performances. “During a concert, I completely shut myself off, not because I want to, but because I just disappear into a kind of trance. Sometimes, when I sing with my eyes half closed, I open them and realise I am somewhere completely different. It just takes over, and no one can get between that.”
In the Cold Light of Monday is out now.